A Night at the Movies

September 27, 2018

The Kukui Mall theater has been closed for some time. That is, until very recently. A mainland company, Regency Theatres, refurbished and renovated the old theater and is currently showing movies at the classic spot. Now sporting updated chairs with button-controlled reclining and leg stands, as well as swivelling food trays, the theater brings homey comfort to audiences trying to catch the latest film releases.

There are four auditoriums total at the theater to the left and right of the concession stand – less than its Central Maui counterparts, but it’s still very comforting to know that Kihei and Maui’s south side has its own theater again, especially considering that the screens have been dim at this location since the old theater closed in 2012. The new theater follows a similar standard to the Maui Mall Megaplex, with plushy cushions and smooth floors as opposed to carpet.

Regency Theatres, a mainland company, is owned and operated by Lyndon Golin. They started in 1996 and currently have 28 locations open in Southern California, Nevada, Arizona and Hawai‘i. Lyndon Golin said his vision for the Kihei Kukui Mall theater is “Just to offer a first-class movie going experience.” When asked how the opening has gone so far, Mr. Golin stated, “I’ve had a great response so far, we’ve had a nice turnout.”

“We go there a couple times a year,” Golin said when asked why he opened the theater. “That theater had been closed for some time, there was a hole in the market. We felt it would be good to serve that side of the island.”

While the current theater has new carpeting in the lobby area, the concession stand remains familiar. It still has the unique cylindrical style, where a person enters in on one side, orders the their goods, and then walks around to the cashier at the end.

The old theater closed due to a dry spell caused by a lack of viewers and a generally poor summer and winter film menagerie. Many shops at Kukui Mall met the same fate in 2012 and later on. Oceans Bar and Grill closed years ago and Mama’s Ribs & Rotisserie just recently closed (their Napili location is still open), while Fat Boy Burger was bought out and turned into Stewz Maui Burger. Even the Local Motion outlet, long standing alone in the Kukui Mall parking lot, has since closed its doors.

With all the closed doors in that shopping center, Kihei residents can rest assured: Someone is working to fill Kukui Mall again. But business models may have to change. Indeed, the way theaters were before 2016 may never exist again. Keeping with the times and giving residents a reason to watch something not on Netflix, Maui Megaplex and the Kihei Regency have both upgraded their theater seats to be button-controlled recliners and changed the way people watch movies.

Change happens, but people continue to seek the latest releases on the big screen. This reporter fondly remembers this theater, where once a young man wondered in to a smaller screen and saw the first Alien movie Ridley Scott had made in 33 years, Prometheus. Those highlighted halls with golden lanterns and wonderful upholstery represented the frontier of cinema. The seats were all the same plush cushions with plastic armrests and cup holders.

I recall when The Avengers first came out and the theater was full with a line going out of the box office, all the way through the parking lot, and into South Kihei Road. Then, Hollywood hit a dry spell with not-so-great box office blunders, and the Kukui theater felt the loss. It became a husk when it got all the not-so-great hits. One of the last films to be played in that theater was Men In Black III. Then the theater was just closed – gone, like Oceans night club.

For a time Kihei was without a theater. That has changed. The new cinema is packed with a new and loud sound system, redone upholstery and wall lanterns, and those great reclining chairs that go all the way back with the nice pivoting food tray. If this is the face of a revival in cinema brands across America then all that can be said is: Thank goodness and hallelujah.